One of the most impactful books that I have ever read is called “The Wisdom of Your Body” by Dr. Hillary McBride. Think of this as part book review, part encouragement to go read this book and an invitation to step into wholeness, connection, and healing through embodiment.
So, what exactly is embodiment? McBride states that “there is no unified definition of embodiment.” It is often understood as a ‘quality or idea that is being lived out.” For example, an author or speaker hopefully lives out what they write about or speak about, thus embodying their platform or message. In the context of this book, McBride describes it as something farther reaching. That is, “the experience of being a body in a social context.” It means that to live embodied is to unapologetically take up space.
McBride states that in western culture the mind is seemingly divorced from the body and emotions. Thinking and cognitions and knowledge are elevated above all else. Often that means emotions are overlooked or shutdown. And yet, we are holistic beings who are spiritual, emotional, social, physical, and intellectual. Embodiment is an integration of each of these parts. Each are valuable and each matter.
If embodiment is to take up space and to live a wholly integrated life, then disembodied means lack of connection. Instead of safety and security, our body becomes a place where we might feel constricted, boxed in, unsafe, unprotected, ungrounded. What we experience ultimately determines what type of relationship we have with our bodies. If you have experienced trauma that has gone unprocessed, then it’s possible that your body continues to hold onto that trauma. “Trauma does not happen to our thoughts, but to our bodies—and it remains in our bodies until we know we are safe.”
Additionally, embodiment is deeply intertwined with appearance and body image. There is a pervasive message underlying culture that states “your body is an object.” We learn from an early age that our external image matters and it is subject to critique. You may have picked up on this messaging from parents, peers, or the media. To live embodied is to know that you are not an object, but a self. One of my favorite things to remind my clients is that your body is good. And not someday in the future when you have it all together, but now.
Feeling your feelings is another component and intrinsic piece of living embodied. As stated before, our culture has taught us to place our emotions in a box and to shove them aside. But here’s the thing: “what we won’t feel we cannot heal.” As McBride states, we have to move toward the emotions rather than exile them in order to actually move through them.
What does the body have to do with emotions? Emotions are felt and happen inside our bodies. Not only that, but they are expressed through them. Next time you feel increased anxiety or fear, stop and ask yourself where in your body might you feel that emotion or sensation.
How can we take this deeply sacred work of embodiment and put it into practice? An important place to start is being present. One of my favorite practices I teach and do with my clients is called grounding. I ask the client to place their feet on the ground and name five things they see, touch, taste, smell, and hear in the present moment. This is a simple practice to train your mind and body to simply be and to recognize what is happening in and around you in a moment.
Movement is perhaps the most important and profound way to live an embodied life. If we were to lose the ability to experience our senses, our body and mind could survive. But if we lose the ability to move, our muscles atrophy and our brain suffers. Movement is how we interact with the world around us. Start by asking, how do I like to move? Maybe you enjoy Zumba or running. You might find satisfaction in going for walks in the evening or rollerblading. Movement not only is good for our physical body, but it also is the number one way to process and metabolize emotions and stress. “Movement also does not have to be a means to an end, but can be something that evokes pleasure, play and fun.”
Another way to live embodied is through food. This could look like enjoying a meal around the table with friends or simply being mindful of what you feed your body. It might look like honoring when your body is hungry and grabbing a snack.
Compassionate touch is another way to heal the relationship you might have with your body. Simply place your hand on your chest lovingly and say something kind to yourself.
I invite you to begin living a whole, connected, embodied life. That might look like seeking professional help in order to work through past trauma that you might be holding onto. Perhaps it looks like practicing one of the above mentioned practices or finding another practice that works for you. It might look like further educating yourself on embodiment (The Wisdom of Your Body is a great place to begin).
McBride writes, “May this be an invitation into fully inhabiting yourself as a body in a way that helps you carry safety and wisdom within yourself.”
Lauren Schulke, LMSW